What Is “Hatha Yoga”

The science of Yoga is divided into several branches. Among the best known and leading divisions are (1) Hatha Yoga; (2) Raja Yoga; (3) Karma Yoga; (4) Gnani Yoga. This book is devoted only to the first named, and we will not attempt to describe the others at this time, although we will have something to say upon all of these great branches of Yoga, in future writings.

Hatha Yoga is that branch of the Yoga Philosophy which deals with the physical body  its ‘care, its well  being  its health ” its strength- and all that tends to keep it in its natural and normal state of health. It teaches a natural mode of living and voices the cry which has been taken up by many of the Western world: “Let us get back to Nature,” excepting that the Yogi does not have to get back for he is already there, for be has always clung close to nature and her ways, and has not been dazzled and befooled by the mad rush toward externals which has caused the modern civilized races to forget that such a thing as nature existed.

Fashions and social ambitions have not reached the Yogi’s consciousness-he smiles at these things, and regards them as be does the pretenses of childish games-he has not been lured from nature’s arms, but continues to cuddle close up to the bosom of his good mother who has always given him nourishment, warmth and protection. Hatha Yoga is first, nature; second, nature, and last, NATURE.

When confronted with a choice of methods, plans, theories, etc., apply to them the touchstone: “Which is the natural way,” and always choose that which seems to conform the nearest to nature. This plan will be a good one for our students to follow when their attention is directed to the many theories; “fads”; methods; plans and ideas, along health lines, with which the Western world is being flooded. For instance if they are asked to believe that they are in danger of losing their “magnetism”, by coming in contact with the earth, and are advised to wear rubber soles and heels upon their shoes, and to sleep in beds “insulated” with glass feet, to prevent nature (mother Earth) from sucking and drawing out of them the magnetism which she has just given them, let the students ask themselves “What does Nature say about this?”

hatha yoga pose

Then, in order to find out what nature says, let them see whether nature’s plans could have contemplated the manufacture and wearing of rubber soles, and glass feet for beds. Let them see whether the strong magnetic men, full of vitality, do these things ”let them see whether the most vigorous races in the world have done these things ” let them see whether they feel debilitated from lying down on the grassy sward, or whether the natural impulse of man is not to fling reclining on the bosom of their good mother earth, and whether the natural, impulse of man is not to fling himself upon the grassy bank ”let them see whether the natural impulse of childhood is not to run barefoot; whether it does not refresh the feet to take off the shoes (rubber soles and all) and walk around barefooted; whether rubber boots are particularly conducive to “magnetism” and vitality, and so on.

We give this merely as an illustration, not that we wish to waste time in discussing the merits or demerits of rubber soles, and glass bed feet as a preservative of magnetism. A little observation will teach the man that all of nature’s answers show him that he gets much of his magnetism from the earth, and that the earth is a battery charged with it, and is always willing and anxious to give forth its strength to man, instead of being devoid of it and to be dreaded as being anxious and likely to “draw” the magnetism from man, its child. Some of these latter day prophets will next be teaching that the air draws Prana from people, instead of giving it to them.

So, by all means, apply the nature test to all theories of this kind-our own included-and if they do not square with nature, discard them-the rule is a safe one. Nature knows what it is about-she is your friend and not your enemy.

There have been many and most valuable works written on the other branches of the Yogi Philosophy, but the subject of Hatha Yoga has been dismissed with a brief reference by most of the writers upon Yoga. This is largely due to the fact that in India there exists a horde of ignorant mendicants of the lower fakir class, who pose as Hatha Yogis, but who have not the slightest conception of the underlying principles of that branch of Yoga.

These people content themselves with obtaining control over some of the involuntary muscles of the body (a thing possible to anyone who will devote to it the time and trouble necessary for its accomplishment), thereby acquiring the ability to perform certain abnormal “tricks” which they exhibit to amuse and entertain (or disgust) Western travelers. Some of their feats are quite wonderful, when regarded from the standpoint of curiosity, and the performers would be worthy applicants for paying positions in the “dime museums” of America, indeed their feats being very similar to some performed by some of the Western “freaks.”

We hear of these people exhibiting with pride such tricks and acquired habits as, for instance the ability to reverse the peristaltic action of the bowels and intestines, and the swallowing movements of the gullet, so as to give a disgusting exhibition of a complete reversal of the normal processes of those parts of the body, so that articles introduced into the colon may be carried upward and ejected from the gullet, by this reversed movement of the involuntary muscles, etc. This, from a physician’s point of view, is most interesting, but to the layman is a most disgusting thing, and one utterly unworthy of a man. Other feats of these so-called Hatha Yogis are about on a par with the instance which we have reluctantly given, and we know of nothing that they perform which is of the slightest interest or benefit to the man or woman seeking to maintain a healthy, normal, natural body.

These mendicants are akin to the class of fanatics in India who assume the title “Yogi”, and who refuse to wash the body, for religious reasons; or who sit with uplifted arm until it is withered; or who allow their finger nails to grow until they pierce their hands; or who sit so still that their birds build nests in their hair; or who perform other ridiculous feats, in order to pose as “holy men” before the ignorant multitude, and, incidentally’, to be fed by the ignorant classes who consider that they are earning a future reward by the act.

These people are either rank frauds, or self-deluded fanatics, and as a class are on a par with a certain class of beggars in American and European large cities who exhibit their self-inflicted wounds, and bogus deformities, in order to wring pennies from the passer-by, who turns his head and drops the coppers in order to get the thing out of his sight.

The people whom we have just mentioned are regarded with pity by the real Yogis who regard Hatha Yoga as an important branch of their philosophy, because it gives man a healthy body-a good instrument with which to work-a fitting temple for the Spirit.

In this little book, we have endeavored to give in a plain, simple form, the underlying principles of Hatha Yoga—giving the Yogi plan of physical life. And we have tried to give you the reason for each plan. We have found it necessary to first explain to you in the terms of Western physiology the various functions of the body, and then to indicate Nature’s plans and methods, which one should adhere. to as far as possible. It is not a “doctor book”, and contains nothing about medicine, and practically nothing about the cure of diseases, except where we indicate what one should do in order to get back to a natural state. Its keynote is the Healthy Man-its main purpose to help people to conform to the standard of the normal man.

But we believe that that which keeps a healthy man healthy will make an unhealthy man healthy, if he follows it. Hatha Yoga preaches a sane, natural, normal manner of living and life, which, if followed will benefit any one. It keeps close to nature and advocates a return to natural methods in preference to those which have grown up around us in our artificial habits of living.

This book is simple—very simple—so simple, in fact, that many will most likely throw it aside because it contains nothing new or startling. They have probably hoped for some wonderful recital of the far famed freak tricks of the mendicant Yogis and plans whereby these feats could be duplicated by those who would read it. We must tell such people that this book is not that kind of book. We do not tell you how to assume seventy-four kinds of postures, nor how to draw linen through the intestines for the purpose of cleaning them out (contrast this with nature’s plans) or how to stop the heart’s beating, or to perform tricks with your internal apparatus. Not a hit of such teaching will you find here. We do tell you how to command a rebellious organ to again function properly, and several other things about the control over an involuntary part which has gone on a strike, but we have mentioned these things only in the line of making man a healthy being—not to make a “freak” of him.

We have not said much about disease. We have preferred to hold up to your gaze the Healthy Man and Woman, asking you to look well at them and see what makes them healthy and keeps them healthy. Then we call your attention to what they do and how they do it. Then we tell you to go and do likewise, if you would be like them. That is all we try to do. But that “all” is about everything that may be done for you—you must do the rest yourself.

In other chapters, we tell you why the Yogis take care of the body, and also the underlying principle of the Hatha Yoga—that belief in the Intelligence behind all Life ”that trust in the great Life Principle to carry on its work properly ” that belief that if we will but rely on that great principle, and will allow it to work in and through us all will be well with our bodies. Read on, and you will see what we are trying to say to you-will get the message with which we have been charged to deliver to you. In answer to the question, with which this chapter is headed: “What is Hatha Yoga?”, we say to you: Read this book to the end, and you will understand some little about what it really is—to find out all it is put into practice the precepts of this book, and you will get a good fair start on the road to that knowledge you seek.